Last week in my post, “7 Steps to Resolution Success,” I touched upon the idea of the one-habit method. You might remember that step 1 asks you to choose one goal, while step 4 breaks that goal into parts, and in step 5 you choose a process and stick to it. These steps support the one-habit method.
What’s the one-habit method? The one-habit method is a strategy employed by Precision Nutrition, the organization that certifies me to be a nutrition coach, to help people meet their long-term goals by creating sustainable habits that support those goals. By focusing on only one habit at a time, you can master that habit, making it a part of your life that you don’t even have to think about (which is key in habit-forming).
This is not a weight-loss blog, but let’s use weight loss as an example because most people have at least some experience with trying to lose weight. Let’s create a composite character using some of the people I’ve talked to over my years in the fitness industry...we’ll call her “Brenda.” Last week, Brenda approached me at the gym, grinning from ear to ear:
I know what I need to do to lose weight! I need to stop eating sugar (or fat or carbs), to stop eating after 9 pm, and to start drinking smoothies for breakfast. I’ll drink more water, exercise 5 times a week, and make sure I’m getting 20,000 steps per day. I’ll do more cardio. I’ll count calories (or macros). I’ll meal plan. I’ll bring snacks to work so that I don’t buy something from the vending machine. I’ll stop drinking alcohol (or mochaccinos). I’ll eat more vegetables. I’ll eat my colors. And I’ll stop eating packaged foods.
This is only slightly hyperbolic. People come to me with a long list of changes they NEED to make so that they can meet their goals, which is usually unrealistic and will end in failure. (Anything that doesn’t succeed in the long term has failed. If you lost 15 pounds on Weight Watchers, but you gained it all back, Weight Watchers ultimately didn’t work for you.)
So what do I do when someone approaches me with a 100-bullet-point list? I try to get them to choose one thing from the list and work on that. For example, if Brenda approached me with the plan above, I’d ask her 2 questions: (1) Which one of these changes do you think would have the most impact? (2) Which one of these changes do you think would be the easiest for you to make?
Let’s say Brenda thinks that not eating packaged foods would have the most impact and having a smoothie for breakfast would be the easiest change. Great, now she has a simple choice: does she want to tackle the change with the most influence or the change that is easiest to make? In making this decision, I’d want Brenda to consider how motivated she feels RIGHT NOW. If she is ready to tackle the world, great! Pick the tough habit and start there. But if she feels fatigued or discouraged or exasperated at the immensity of her goals, then I'd recommend she should pick the easy change. Nothing like a little success to act as a motivator.
In the end, you don’t know what will work for you until you try it. And if you make 400 difficult changes that you can’t stick to, then you won’t know which changes were actually helpful and which were just difficult. I’m a firm believer in making things as easy as possible. It’s easier to make one change than thirty. And if the change you’re trying to make is too difficult, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to actually make that stick to it for the long-term.
So think about your own goals and ask yourself the following questions (feel free to share in the comments):
What changes do you think you should make to get there?
Which of those changes would have the most effect?
Which of those changes would be easiest to make?
Where do you want to start?
Want a coach who can help you make one sustainable change at a time? Good news! There are a few days left to sign up for the January 14 nutrition and fitness coaching cohorts. Click here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Sign up by January 12, 2019 and commit to the habits that will help you reach your goals, whatever they may be.
Big thanks for Eduardo Espada for his incomparable illustrations! You can find him here and follow him here.